Secretary Duncan Visits Delaware, Praises and Pushes Early Learning
On Monday, US Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan visited Delaware to promote the president’s early learning agenda. During his visit, he did a number of important things—from playing a game of toss with a group of four year olds, to observing classes at St. Michaels School and Nursery, and unveiling the state’s Strategic Plan for a Comprehensive Early Childhood System. The launch of the Plan, an effort of the state’s Early Childhood Council, was an opportunity for Secretary Duncan to praise Delaware for its early learning efforts, but also encourage the state to continue pushing, saying, “The state’s public preschool program for four-year-olds is still small and inadequate to meet the demand for high-quality preschool.”
At the Strategic Plan unveiling, Secretary Duncan also reiterated that the President’s 2014 budget proposes a significant chunk of money to support early learning–$75 billion over 10 years to create new partnerships with states to provide high-quality preschool for all four-year olds. Funding would be provided to states to offer or expand high-quality preschool programs; an additional $750 million would provide competitive grants to states to strengthen their early learning systems and $15 million to significantly expand and improve services to younger children, from birth to age three, through Head Start. Secretary Duncan shared his excitement and hope that Delaware would not only participate, but serve as a proof-point for the rest of the country for excellence in early childhood programming.
Specific details of the President’s plan, also known as Preschool for All, indicate that states which agree to the plan would get federal funding to support new pre-K slots for 4-year-olds whose family incomes are at or below 200 percent of the poverty line. This new partnership would provide incentives for states to cover all low- to moderate-income families who want to send their children to preschool, and to serve families above the income threshold. In the first year of the program, the federal government would pay 91 percent of the cost. By the eighth year, states would pay half. By the 10th year, states would pay 75 percent. And the federal portion of the funding would come from cigarette and tobacco taxation.
There will definitely be more to come on Preschool for All. Some Washington insiders, particularly House Republicans, argue that a cigarette tax to find early learning will be a tough sell. Should this pass through the House and Senate, we’re confident that Delaware is well positioned to leverage its resources from the state legislature and Race to the Top to make an even greater impact for Delaware’s youngest citizens. Stay tuned.